Thursday, June 2, 2011

Comic Book Review: El Diablo

El Diablo
by Brian Azzarello, Daniel Zezelj, and Kevin Somers
Vertigo Comics 2001
(Review originally posted on Feo Amante's Horror Thriller)

Copyright © DC Comics, Inc.

After the success of Vertigo’s three limited series featuring DC Comics’ Western gunfighter Jonah Hex, it was inevitable that the company would sift through its roster of frontier figures and see if gold could be struck again.

The nugget found is El Diablo. Originally a backup feature in the original Jonah Hex series from the 1970s and 1980s (and possibly some other DC Western titles), El Diablo was a supernatural Zorro. Clad in black with a red mask, he wielded a bullwhip and a six gun in the cause of justice. His alter ego was Lazarus Lane, the comatose victim of a lightning strike under the care of a Shaman named Wise Owl (think Alfred, Batman’s loyal butler). Using his magic, Wise Owl could bring Lane out of his coma, but only as El Diablo.

In this new incarnation of El Diablo, writer Brian Azzarello and artist Daniel Zezelj have put together a great character study wrapped in a mystery. What they failed to do was write a story about El Diablo.

Moses Stone is the Sheriff of Bollas Raton. Once a bounty hunter, he’s now looking to forget his past notoriety and start raising a family. He knows how to keep the peace in his town and is not above allowing outlaws to stay in town for some drinking and whoring as long as they stay out of trouble.

Stone’s law and order is disrupted when a band of outlaws are gunned down, and Stone himself is tortured by the perpetrator believed to be the mythical El Diablo, a hissing specter who wanders the lawless land dispensing justice. Spirit or not, there is a $10,000 price on his head (from a wanted poster sanctioned by one Lazarus Lane), enough for Stone to draft a posse to pursue the vigilante. El Diablo made sure Stone knew where he’d be heading: the town of Halo, where the sheriff says he was born.

It isn’t long before the hunters become the hunted as El Diablo begins to dispatch the posse. Those members who do survive to arrive in Halo suspect that Stone is hiding something from them, especially as the body count rises and only Stone is present at every murder blaming El Diablo.

Once Stone’s mysterious past is revealed, it catches up with him in an unexpected double twist finale where justice is served not by a spirit of vengeance, but by the very same law and order Stone claimed to represent.

El Diablo is a well-written mystery set in the Old West. The story would have worked even without using El Diablo. Here, he’s more of an intrusion than anything else. He appears, kills some people, hisses, and disappears. His purpose here is to guide Stone back into his past—a past he thought buried, and a past he never imagined existed.

Azzarello’s unveiling of Stone’s true colors is well done. His other characters had great potential (specifically Paw Paw—a half white, half Apache bounty hunter) and I was disappointed when they became merely cannon fodder.

Zezelj’s art with shaded coloring by Kevin Somers wasn’t very clear in many ways. I had difficulty telling some of the characters apart, but I give them credit for creating a unique look and each issue contains memorable imagery.

Tim Sale’s covers are very impressive. The silhouette of El Diablo, pistols drawn hovers over Old West landscapes with newspaper clippings behind him are all great montages.

All Covers
Copyright © DC Comics, Inc.

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